Monday, February 09, 2009
Book Report: Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon (1995)
I don't know why I am such a sucker for Neil Simon plays. They're short, as are all modern plays, and they're often amusing, but frankly they tend to lack a proper story arc in the two acts. I Ought To Be In Pictures and Chapter Two are pretty good, but Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound just kind of drop a couple of scenes out of Simon's life, fictionalized, onto the stage. I guess Lost in Yonkers is somewhere in between. However, the lesson I've learned is the closer the story tracks to Simon's life, the less interesting it will be.

This play has two acts about a young writer working for a comedy/variety show in 1953. We get two acts of the writers who work there ripping on each other and making jokes as fast as they can. Their mercurial boss, the head of the show, makes an appearance. The HUAC is at work, and the network wants to cut the show. Then, in act 2, we get more of the same and the show ends.

This is the weakest of the plays of Simon that I've read, and it also tracks autobiographical, perhaps proving the my theory. On page, it's less funny than a public domain episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show which has a similar vibe vis-a-vis the working environment without the benefits of wacky situations and an hot young Mary Tyler Moore.

As a side note, I always read the original cast list that appears in the front of the book and see whom I recognize. In this case, it's Nathan Lane as the show host. I also recognized Mark Linn-Baker's name, although if you would have asked me, "He played the American cousin on the television sitcom Perfect Strangers," I would have been at a loss. But give me the name, and I recognize his most famous role. A note of amusement is that he played the guy without the accent in that show, but in this play he portrays a Russian immigrant, so he's the only one with an accent. Huh.

So it's a quick hour's worth of reading, more worth it if you're doing a paper on Neil Simon's works than if not.

Books mentioned in this review:

As a stage play, though, I thought it was pretty effective, if a bit overwrought at several points. (I saw it in three-quarter round in a little Equity-Minus house underneath our Civic Center, the perfect venue for small-scale theatre like this.) The trick, I think, is for the cast not to imitate the real-life characters Simon makes only a perfunctory effort to conceal.

The staging and the theatre experience set a certain minimum enjoyment threshold.

However, there still is no real story arc.

True that; it's a series of punchlines fleshed out with not enough connective tissue.

Still, I'm not one to knock punchlines.

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